What Is Decubitus and How Can You Prevent It?

  • Jun - 01 - 2022
  • Elixair Medical

Nurse helping patient turn over in bed with 2 other hospital staff nearbyDecubitus is the medical term for bedsores or pressure ulcer, and they’re a common problem among patients who are bed ridden. If you or a loved one must remain in bed or even in a wheelchair for prolonged periods of time due to a medical condition, it’s extremely important that you take steps to prevent decubitus from occurring. Keep reading to learn more about this condition, its potential complications, and how you can prevent it.

What Is Decubitus?

As mentioned above, decubitus is commonly known as bedsores, so this latter term is likely one that you’re familiar with. However, many people don’t realize that these sores can develop from more than staying in bed. Exceptionally long periods of sitting—such as for patients who are bound to a wheelchair—can lead to the development of pressure ulcers.

Decubitus can develop in a number of places on the skin depending on whether the patient is confined to a wheelchair or their bed. For patients in a wheelchair, pressure ulcers typically develop on the tailbone or buttocks, shoulder blades, spine, and even the backs of the arms and legs where they rest against the chair. Patients who must stay in bed often develop bedsores on their shoulder blades, hips, lower back, tailbone, back or sides of the head, heels, ankles, and the skin behind the knees.

Essentially, anywhere that there is continuous pressure against the skin, there is a risk for developing decubitus.

What Are the Early Signs and Symptoms?

Bedsores typically develop over the course of several days, so recognizing the early signs and symptoms of decubitus is one key element in helping to prevent them. Here are the warning signs you should watch for:

  • Abnormal changes in skin color or texture
  • Swelling
  • An area of skin that’s warmer or cooler to the touch than the rest of the skin
  • Sensitive patches of skin

When these signs develop on a part of the skin that’s subject to the development of decubitus, it’s important to take immediate action. Ignoring the warning signs can cause a serious bedsore and other potential complications.

What Are the Possible Complications?

Decubitus is far more than a simple sore spot on your skin. It involves death of skin cells and even the decaying of flesh in the impacted area. This can lead to further, often severe complications, including the following:

  • Cellulitis – Cellulitis is an infection that impacts the skin and connected soft tissues. It causes warmth, swelling, pain, and inflammation in the area. However, patients with nerve damage often won’t feel the pain in that area.
  • Infections – When the skin splits from a bedsore, infection is a distinct possibility. However, that infection may not be limited to the skin alone. It can often lead to joint infections that cause damage to cartilage and tissues, and may even infect the bones themselves, reducing the function of joints and limbs.
  • Cancer – You might not think that a sore can cause cancer, but long-lasting, non-healing wounds like certain decubitus ulcers can develop into a type of cancer known as a squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Sepsis – When infections become very serious and impact the bloodstream, the patient can develop sepsis, which is a potentially fatal condition.

As you can see, preventing a pressure ulcer is about more than just avoiding an uncomfortably sore spot on the skin. Decubitus is a potentially serious condition with many possible side effects and complications. Now that you know just how severely bedsores can impact a person’s health, let’s talk about the best ways to prevent them from developing.

How Can You Prevent Bedsores?

Preventing decubitus primarily comes down to two things: frequent repositioning and proper skincare. Inspecting your skin daily, keeping it clean and dry, and inspecting the skin for warning signs as mentioned above are key parts of preventing decubitus. It’s also extremely important that anyone confined to a bed or wheelchair shift their weight frequently and reposition themselves at least once an hour. If you’re unable to reposition yourself, you should ask for help in doing so.

For those in wheelchairs, you might look for a specialty wheelchair with an adjustable seat that can help relieve pressure on the tailbone. Please, do not use a doughnut cushion, as this places the pressure on surrounding tissues and can still cause pressure sores. If you have the upper body strength to do so, use your hands to press on the arm rests and raise yourself out of the seat regularly.

If you’re confined to a bed, you might consider investing in an adjustable mattress that can make it easier to reposition. Specialty mattress pads can be pumped with air at alternating pressures to ensure weight distribution shifts regularly to prevent bedsores. Contact Elixair Medical to learn more about our pressure relief and reduction devices for decubitus care.